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Feature Image by: Jo Caird

Jo Caird on How She Became A Sports Photographer

16th January 2023

Eden Park was recently transformed when 42,000 screaming fans watched the Black Ferns lift the RWC2021 trophy and I was one of the lucky few down on the pitch watching it all as it happened.

My love for sport came long before my love for photography. I grew up watching the All Blacks on TV and as a female in those days, it wasn’t a game I could actually play. I played tennis instead and after a journey through Europe and the World Junior Circuit, I took up a scholarship in the States to study sports photography. I quickly realised that I didn’t want to learn how to photograph gridiron, ice hockey or even basketball. Rugby is what I wanted to photograph and even though I had absolutely no idea how I would get there, I was determined that I would end up photographing my heroes in Black.

Athlete Richie McCaw image by Jo Caird

Athlete Ardie Savea image by Jo Caird

I came back to NZ and began studying a Bachelor of Media Studies, but I found the speed of progress frustratingly slow, so I set up my own work experiences at all the major news publications and at a sports photography agency. It was amazing and reiterated that this was the path that I wanted to go down. I offered to work for free to gain access to all their great camera gear, have access to amazing sporting events and learn from a couple of professional sports photographers. It was a great decision and far cheaper than paying a lot of money to study and learn at a slow pace. Within a few weeks I was offered a full-time position and spent a couple of years learning everything I possibly could. Plus, in 1995 (only 3 months after I started) I got to photograph my very first All Black Test Match! Milestone number one.

Sports photographer image by Jo Caird

Fast forward two years and I was covering the All Black tour of the UK. In those days it was a 9-week tour with both a test team and a midweek team touring together. I was hand developing film in my hotel rooms, turning the bathroom into a darkroom and using the hairdryer to speed up the process. Wiring images was a tediously slow process and often I could only send back 6-7 images from each test match. Things started to change at lightning speed when the cameras we used moved to digital format and at the same time rugby turned professional. I approached the All Blacks about formalising the work I was doing for them and a few months later I became the first official photographer of the All Blacks.

An epic 16 years followed. I worked within the All Blacks inner circle in a variety of roles which involved working with their sponsors. During that time, I developed a long-term relationship with Adidas International who became a valued client for almost two decades. I was fortunate to cover over 150 All Black test matches and cover six Rugby World Cups. The first women’s Rugby World Cup I attended was in Amsterdam in 1998 and seeing the incredible progress the women’s game has made has been fantastic.

Athlete Bledisloe image by Jo Caird

During the recent RWC2021 (played in 2022), I was fortunate to work with Canon and have the winners of the Canon Sidelines Experience Competition join me pitch side. It was a fantastic experience both for the winners and for me! Seeing it all again through the eyes of somebody experiencing the action, the noise and the energy for the first time was very special. Sometimes we can be so caught up in covering the matches, trying to get the best images, that we forget to stop for a split second and appreciate the special space we work in.

Here is my advice about how to get into sports photography:

Firstly, I think you must love sports. I see some shooters pitch side who obviously don’t love it, and it’s clearthey don’t enjoy their job as much as those of us who do. You also need to know and understand sport. Being aware of the rules of the sport, what’s likely to happen next is all part of being able to capture great images.

I also think you need to be physically fit. Camera gear, especially big lenses, are heavy. When you add them all together, throw in a laptop and all the chargers, it makes for one very heavy camera bag. I have memories of walking for miles in so many cities around the world, and often around and around massive stadiums trying to find the correct entry gates.

Gears image by Jo Caird

Becoming good at shooting sport can be done without attending any big events. Sport is being played everywhere and people always love having their photo taken while they play. Rugby for example, can be shot at nearly every local field over the winter months, and touch rugby is played throughout the summer.

Learn how to capture great images without the stresses of stadiums, franchise teams and all the restrictive rules that come with them. Then when you have a portfolio together look at approaching brands, magazines or other publications. There is so much content online these days and it’s a fantastic place to learn from others. Selective scrolling through Instagram can help you figure out what genre or style of photography you are drawn to and from there it’s all about getting out there and taking photos. Photography is an ever changing, exciting space where you can learn and enjoy pushing yourself, it’s a lifelong adventure.

Gallery of Jo's images

Athlete Kayla Imrie image by Jo Caird

Athlete Kayla Imrie image by Jo Caird

Athlete Lisa Carrington image by Jo Caird

Athlete Lisa Carrington image by Jo Caird
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